THE CONCEPT OF AMBITION
Ambition is the desire for elevation and continuous aspiration.
Ambition is the case of a person who never feels satisfied and never stops at a certain level.
Now, is this wrong or right? Is it spiritual or not spiritual? Normal or abnormal? Should a person go that way or resist it? These are important questions to which we shall give answers here with regard to the kind of ambition and its direction.
Ambition is a natural thing, part of man's nature.
Man is created after God's image and likeness. But God is unlimited, how then can man be made in God's image with regard to this attribute in particular while God alone is the Unlimited? The answer is that:
God created in man the inclination to the unlimited.
Since man cannot be unlimited by himself; for being
unlimited is the attribute of God alone, his desires and ambitions became inclined to an unlimited level
Whenever a person attains a certain position,
he longs for
a higher and better one. St Paul says to us, "not to think
[of himself] more highly than [he] ought to think, but to
think soberly" (Rom. 12:3). So, as long as man is created
in God's image, ambition will be a natural thing in him.
However, ambition differs from one person to another.
According to the kind of ambition, it is deemed to be
good or evil. Good ambition is a long way one must
walk. There is a sentence before which, believe me my
friends, I stand astounded and amazed: "till we all
come... to the measure of the stature of the fullness of
Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
The path towards perfection is long and its
concept is so
deep, we ought not to walk in it slowly or sluggishly but
to follow the words of the experienced saint, "Run in
such a way that you may obtain it" (1 Cor 9:24). He even
applies this to himself saying, "Therefore I run thus"
(1 Cor. 9:26).
I wonder whether this saint continued to run thus even after he had ascended to the third heaven.
Holy ambition then is spiritual ambition, aiming at a spiritual objective, and taking a spiritual course.
Yet, there is another kind of ambition; a worldly and sinful one, what is it?
It is an ambition which concentrates on the self and
has worldly aims through means that might be
Examples of this kind of ambition are wealth, sensual
delight, lust, money, titles, greatness, vain glory and the
The example is the rich fool:
"The land of that rich man yielded plentifully so he said to himself, "I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:18,19).
Thus he concentrated on material matters and on himself, he did involve God in his ambitions. So he heard God's judgment, "You fool! This night your soul will be required of you, then whose will those things be which you have provided?" (Luke 12:20).
Example of King Solomon (the wise):
He had ambitions of greatness and luxury, of sensual
pleasure and women. So he said to himself, "I made my
works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself
vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards... I
acquired male and female servants... I also gathered for
myself silver and gold and the special treasures of Kings
and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the
delights of the sons of men... So I became great and
excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem.
Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them"
But what did Solomon attain from all these ambitions? He said, "Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labour in which I toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping of the wind. There was no profit under the sun" (Eccl. 2:11).
Such is the vain worldly ambition; it led
Solomon to sin
and be under God's punishment. The divine inspiration
said about this, "his wives turned his heart after other
gods, and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God"
(1 Kin. 11:4).
Another example of worldly ambitions is that of those who built the Tower of Babel.
They sought greatness saying, "Come, let us
ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens;
let us make a name for ourselves... " (Gen. 11:4).
Therefore God confused their language and scattered
them abroad over the face of all the earth (Gen. 11:7,8).
God disapproved such ambition which was mixed with love for greatness and arrogance...
But the worst ambition indeed was that of Satan!!
He was an angel, even an archangel and was
called by the Holy Bible "the anointed cherub who covers", and was perfect in his ways from the day he was created
Yet, in spite of his fall, Satan continued in his evil ambitions.
He even dared to say to the Lord Christ - glory be to Him
- on the Mount of temptation, "All these things I will give
You if You will fall down and worship me" (Matt.4:8,9).
So, the Lord rebuked him and said, "Away with you,
However he continued with his ambitions, wishing to
compete with God, and to deceive the nations which are
in the four corners of the earth (Rev. 20:8), and cause the
great apostasy preceding the Second Coming
(2 Thess. 2:3,9).
With the same sinful ambition, he made our
fall in the temptation of eating the fruit of the tree of
knowledge of good and evil, saying to them, "you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5).
Some kinds of ambition are associated with conceit.
Conceit may be preceding or succeeding ambition.
Preceding conceit is the case of the person who thinks of
himself more highly than he ought to think (Rom. 12:3).
Such a person might jump to spiritual levels surpassing his power and thus descends instead of being steadfast in such levels. He might also aspire to have responsibilities beyond his capabilities and thus he fails.
If such a person succeeds in anything, he will become conceited for other things and seek more and more.
Many political leaders failed due to over ambition for continuous triumph, such as Hitler and Napoleon.
The lust for glorification often caused trouble to the ambitious.
It even led them to covetousness and dissatisfaction as
Solomon the Wise said, "All the rivers run into the sea,
yet the sea is not full" (Eccl. 1:7), and also, "The eye is
not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing".
For this reason, many who seek worldly ambition are in
strife, in spite of whatever they gain or achieve.
Difference between the two kinds of ambition :
Sinful ambition: whenever it attains some level, it is puffed up and becomes arrogant. Whereas spiritual ambition rejoices in the Lord in humbleness.
Both kinds of ambition can be apparent in
A person having sinful ambition likes to attain the gifts of
the Spirit to be glorified by people, whereas a person
having spiritual ambition strives to attain the fruits of the
Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23), through which he can enjoy God's
love and hidden virtues. Such a person who struggles in
the spiritual path, does not take pride in what he attains,
but finds spiritual pleasure in his attachment to the Lord.
The more he attains, the more he becomes humble,
knowing that the way of perfection is still far away. He
looks at the lives of the saints and finds that he is no
comparison! Whenever he attains something, he
remembers the words of the Lord, "When you have
done all those things which you are commanded, say,
'We are unprofitable servants" (Luke 17:10).
Therefore, many saints who attained very high levels
continued to weep for their sins, because in their spiritual
ambition they saw higher and higher levels they have not
Spiritual people differ from worldly people in regard to the measures of ambition.
E A person who has worldly ambition likes for example to become more wealthy and to increase his money day after day and may become greedy. But the ambition of the spiritual person is in giving out his money to the poor to have treasure in heaven.
E A person who has worldly ambition likes to be
always the first if not the only. He likes the front seats,
whereas a spiritual person finds ambition in acquiring the
virtue of humility and takes the last seat. He puts before
him the words of the Apostle, "...in honour giving
preference to one another" (Rom. 12:10), and thus he
tries to be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35).
Such a person turns into a servant, who loves to serve others and grows in his service, so all people love him for serving them.
A worldly ambitious person competes with people to take their place.
But a spiritually ambitious person helps others to attain
what he attained. He does not rival people in the course
of life, but with all his heart he wants to attain to God.
Unlike this type, the worldly ambitious person likes to surpass others or detain someone else to beat him.
When Joshua son of Nun saw two men prophesying, he
wanted to forbid them - seeing that prophesying should
be confined to his master Moses - Moses rebuked him, saying, "Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!" (Num. 11:26-29).
A person who has spiritual ambition, wants to attain the utmost of spirituality due to his love to God, never thinks of rivaling or competing with others or even surpassing them in spirituality.
The ambitious who wants to be superior is overcomed by the self.
God's grace is ready to help everyone achieve their goals. Why then is there competing and rivaling in the way of ambition since there is room for all ?
Or do you want - with this ambition - to win
in spirituality? And for what reason? Can you find
through this victory the spirit of love which your ambition
The ambition of a person who does not only want to be the first but even to be the only one, is undoubtedly evil ambition.
Such ambitious persons do not like the benefit of others, and this is evil. Ambition like this has deviated and turned to self-love or to selfishness.
Spiritual ambition seeks to rise above certain levels not certain people.
You may rise above certain persons but your spiritual
level remains as it is, besides, the desire of surpassing
others might lead you to fall into the sin of envy and
jealousy which contradicts the spirit of true love. It
makes you watch the person who competes with you and
you may rejoice for his failure to get an opportunity to
surpass him, and thus you lose the purity of heart.
Seek then not to promote yourself in order to conquer
over others, and if you do not come first, see that you do
not envy him who becomes first but rather rejoice for
This is spiritual ambition; to overcome oneself not others.
Let the objective of your seeking perfection be to please God, not to acquire vain glory.
It is a divine commandment that you be perfect
(Matt. 5:48), and if you attain this, you ought to rejoice that you will have pleased God by carrying out His commandment. Let this rejoicing be without pride and without comparing yourself to others.
A spiritually ambitious person develops continually.
That is because development is a practical quality for
ambition. However in development, a spiritually
ambitious person rejoices to see others develop as well.
Spiritual ambition seeks spiritual growth in prayers,
contemplations, knowing God, love of God, serving Him and love of others; all of which are not fields for competition.
In prayer, a spiritually ambitious person likes to develop and grow whether with regard to the time he spends with God or to the fervency, depth, contemplation, love and faith in his prayers. The same can be said with respect to other virtues; he advances steadily.
Unlike this is the person who has no ambition, who
might stop at a certain position and achieve no
progress, and this might perhaps lead him to become
In practical life, a person ought to be ambitious.
He should put before him as a goal to succeed in
whatever he does as it was said about Joseph the
Righteous that he was a successful man, the Lord was
with him and made all he did to prosper in his hand.
Someone may ask at this point: Does ambition contradict contentment? No.
Contentment concerns material matters, while ambition concerns spiritual matters.
Both go together and strengthen each
other. Some may
ask how can ambition attain perfection while perfection is
an attribute of God alone. I reply that what is required from a person is relative, not absolute, perfection. If you cannot attain perfection, you should at least grow so that God might see you progressing every day.
Be like the tree which grows every day; for
shall flourish like a palm tree (Ps. 92:12). Do not let your
ambition in your work hinder your ambition in your
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